North Otago coach Nigel Walsh got everything he could have asked for out of the first representative action of the season.
A North Otago XV competed well with Southland before the Stags came to life in the final quarter for a 34-7 win at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.
Considering it was the first hit-out, and multiple players – including imports – were missing, and the opposition was at Mitre 10 Cup level, it was no surprise there was some satisfaction on the home bench.
“There were a lot of positives – more than negatives – out of it,” Walsh said.
“For 60 minutes, we were right in that game, and I thought we stood up well.
“It probably just came down to a little bit of fitness in the end, and also some new combinations we threw out there.
“Our scrum went very well, and the lineout went well, and we’ve got people like Sam Sturgess and Jared Whitburn to come back in there.”
Walsh was impressed with two of his new combinations, Meli Kolinisau and Kelepi Funaki at prop, and Sam Tatupu and Taina Tamou in the midfield.
He also highlighted the work done around the field by flanker Filipo Veamatahau and the tidiness of fullback Hamish Slater.
Tamou, on debut, relished the opportunity to run hard at players he knows well from his time in Southland rugby.
Valley prop Kolinisau continued his charging form from club rugby, and his front-row combination with Funaki and hooker Ralph Darling showed real promise in a North Otago scrum that performed well.
Veamatahau and No 8 Mika Mafi showed plenty of endeavour, while winger Frank Kelly was the pick of the rest of the backs.
A key figure in the opposition was No 8 Tony Lamborn, a former North Otago loan player.
The Stags did not set the world on fire for the first 60 minutes but they finished strongly as prop Morgan Mitchell, lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit and winger Lewis Ormond stood out.
Southland led just 10-0 at the break, and that became 10-7 when Mafi rumbled over from close range.
It was still just 20-7 with eight minutes to play when the Stags scored two quick tries to give them a flattering margin.
North Otago does not have a game this weekend, though many players will head to Dunedin for a game with the development team.
There is still no confirmation of imports for the Heartland Championship.